by Roopinder Tara, Tenlinks.com
There were 84 of us media types that assembled in the historic Grand Hotel Karsnapolksy in central Amsterdam, where amidst the picturesque canals, "coffee" shops, and a surprising proliferation of Argentinean steak houses, we heard all about how well Bentley is doing.
The event started with a Media Day. We were showered with product news (over 20 press briefs and releases), news of the acquisition of two companies, financial status (record revenue of $523M), and forward thinking strategy with lots of attention to mobile devices.
(The rest of the event was devoted to finalists in the Be Inspired contest, culminating in a formal dinner and announcement of the winners. This event is invitation only, for press but mostly for elite customers whose work would be judged exemplary, or would in some way inspire. The more democratic Be Together conference is for all users, closer to Bentley's headquarters, and in Philadelphia this May.)
Only after I dug myself out from under the news was I able to pay attention. I heard a lot about Bentley going mobile, both in terms of mobile devices and data mobility. Presenters were not only showing the mandatory iPad, but also Android devices -- and the brand new Microsoft Surface.
I was curious. I understand that Bentley must support Microsoft and whatever it might come up with -- even the hateful ribbon interface, and now the Surface -- but the Bentley employee demoing the Surface seemed none too thrilled. We agreed the keypad was a bit awkward. He had no difficulty in learning how to use its screen and mostly ignored the keypad which came with the device. He had adjusted to typing on the iPad, but now he was having trouble learning to do the same with Surface.
Bentley even a hired Wired editor to regale us about mobile and Internet at all levels and places in the world -- from its role at the Olympics, where unforeseen heavy use shut down the network, and to the social unrest in Kenya. And let us not forget Arab Spring.
With so much attention being paid to mobile, on stage and in the hallways, plus showing products that were still months away from release just to increase the mobile buzz, I had to ask if Bentley was getting carried away: "Was Bentley throwing everything it had in development of apps for mobile devices, and in the process ignoring the desktop use that was its bread and butter?" After all, most of Bentley users still do work on desktops; most content is created and processed on desktops. Aren't these mobile devices just eye candy?
I sought the Bhupinder Singh, Bentley's level-headed SVP, who is responsible of overall product strategy. Bhupinder explained to me that, No, Bentley still had its feet on the ground, and was quite respectful of its desktop apps.
Bentley is moving forward on the mobilization of data. Bhupinder reiterated what Greg Bentley mentioned, that the production of data was the domain of the desktop, but increasingly the consumption of data needed to be on mobile devices.
For example, once a public agency owns the plans for an infrastructure project, they could be made available to the public -- and for commercial projects. Bentley acquired InspecTech, which gets data from bridge inspections and provides it customers -- although for security concerns the data is not publicly available.
For wide access to data, Bentley would provide servers. Conversion software (such as its i-model technology) on the servers would allow data to be consumed in Revit, MicroStation, or something else. It should all just work. Truly mobile data; no data in silos.
This might work for public data, which is captured at the expense of the public. However, wouldn't this leave vast blank areas with no access to data or areas of private data created by private companies? For example, a LIDAR scan is done of a shopping center; the owner might have no interest in making its data available to others, even for the common good.
(The exception is a big one. Google has provided considerable data for anybody and everybody in the form of Google Earth. But Google can afford the largesse. It makes billions of dollars of profit. A thousand vehicles with multi-lense cameras to ply every paved road? No problem. CAD companies just aren't that size.)
But since I regularly hear about how Bentley it is at the root of every major infrastructure project in the world, I press on. Bhupinder senses where I'm going with this. Of course, Bentley is hardly the size of Google. It cannot behave like a charitable concern, like Google is. It has to make money.
But why not have Bentley act as the broker of the data its customers own? It is in an ideal position to do so. The terabytes of point clouds of processing plants. the BIM data... even whole cities, dams, bridges, water treatment plants... and more. Collectively, it would be a vast amount of useful data.
Instead of it being stored and archived in private solos (Greg Bentley calls this data mortality), here is a chance for Bentley to play a part in making the data available and useful, making itself the data steward for the world's infrastructure data. Granted, Bentley cannot do this all for free, but who could fault them for charging a small brokerage fee, as it were, in effect, to create a marketplace for companies to gain income from data it has already created.
[Reprinted with permission of CAD Insider.]